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With Jasprit Bumrah rested, India’s back-up pacers warm-up for Ranchi Test against England

Mukesh Kumar is likely to partner Siraj, unless India prefer Akash Deep’s extra pace, or even go with four spinners.

There had to come a time in this series when India would have been forced to rest Jasprit Bumrah. That it has arrived when the hosts are ahead 2-1 — partly due to the batting coming good but more because Bumrah was being Bumrah on uninspiring pitches — must evoke a quiet sense of satisfaction. He thoroughly deserves the rest. At the same time, it can’t be impressed enough how bare India look without Bumrah. When Virat Kohli pulled out of the tour, focus shifted on KL Rahul. When he got injured, Shubman Gill and Yashasvi Jaiswal came under the spotlight. So, who is good enough to step into Bumrah’s shoes?

India’s Jasprit Bumrah celebrates the wicket of Zak Crawley on Day 4 of the 3rd Test match against England(ICC – X )

The question itself borders on outrage considering this is Bumrah, who has taken 17 wickets at an unheard of average of 13.64, with an economy of 2.87 in a series where even Ravichandran Ashwin has gone for 4.11. Despite his tenacity, Mohammed Siraj can blow hot and cold at times. Mukesh Kumar wields more control, and can reverse the older ball, but isn’t express and tends to go into a shell when batters go after him. Having taken 10-for to bowl Bengal to victory in the last Ranji Trophy game should boost his confidence.

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Akash Deep, India’s latest uncapped call-up, has even less first-class experience than Kumar. Still, it makes sense to risk resting Bumrah in Ranchi, where the pitch has traditionally played slow and assisted spin early, than not playing him in Dharamsala where the ball is expected to zip around a bit. India are willing to deal with its consequences.

“If a player in the class of Boom bhai is not playing, any team will miss him, especially since he leads our fast-bowling attack,” said Shubman Gill on Wednesday. “But if you look at it, Siraj took four wickets in crucial times in the last match. So, I think, all the pacers have enough experience in Indian conditions, especially bowling reverse swing.”

It’s not only about reverse swing. To not have Bumrah firstly means to lose out on an awe-invoking matchwinner who can succeed irrespective of conditions or a suitable bowling complement. “He comes back whenever Rohit (Sharma) needs a wicket,” Ben Stokes had pointed out after the nine-wicket haul in Visakhapatnam. But Bumrah not sharing the new ball also means England may not be put under pressure straightaway. If that is the case, it could embolden them to pile on the runs till spinners come into effect.

Which is probably why Rahul Dravid wanted to get a simultaneous look at Kumar and Deep steaming in with the new ball at the nets on Wednesday. Kumar was getting the ball to shape in and even get a few edges. Deep, who recently took 11 wickets for India A in two unofficial Tests against England Lions at an average of 16.95, looked quicker. That Siraj joined the bowlers’ queue half-an-hour later indicated how significant this aspect of India’s fast bowling is turning out to be in the run-up to the fourth Test starting on Friday. Siraj is the senior fast bowler and Kumar is tipped to be his partner, but if India want to surprise England, they could well go with Deep.

What won’t be surprising is India choosing to play four spinners. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja being the constant with Kuldeep Yadav, India essentially have all bases covered. And even though Yadav was seen spending a considerable time honing his batting, Washington Sundar or Axar Patel lend an all-round balance India may need here. To make that happen, however, India will have to entertain the possibility of playing only one seamer. This permutation also depends on the pitch, which England vice-captain Ollie Pope has labelled as “interesting”.

“There are a few cracks, very platey and it was wet as well when we checked,” said Pope. “And obviously it would dry if you keep it in the sun, looked a bit crusty, the top layer, One half is good, the other has a lot of platey cracks. We should see how it is after the Indian team has a look at it. Won’t necessarily be a belter wicket.” These are keywords of an impending spin fest. And having fielded four spinners before in this series, England too could go that way.

“Again, we should see what they do as they (India) also gave a practice session in the afternoon,” Pope said. “It depends on what they want, how they see it, if they want to leave a bit of grass on it or shave it off. There is every chance they would do that, especially because they have watered it. Especially with Jasprit missing, they might go down that avenue.”

That England are already thinking of backup plans to counter a coordinated spin assault was evident with the way Pope described in rough detail how spinners may go about their business on this pitch. “If it spins from ball one, it would take the pitch out of the equation too. Lot of games start with a flat pitch, it would deteriorate. That kind of gives the team batting first some advantage. At the moment, from the far end there is rough outside the right hander’s off-stump, and from this end outside the left-hander’s off-stump. So, you need to be aware of the lengths they would target.”


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